By Dionizy Smoleń and Zuzanna Bartczak
Demographic and societal challenges, alongside rapid technological developments, have created new and varied types of crime. But which ones do citizens consider most important to tackle? And how can society be engaged so that police forces can best prioritise resources to tackle crime?
Cultural norms are changing and citizens expect more from the police to keep them safe. PwC’s study Policing in a networked world highlighted the huge potential of data analytics to drive fresh insight, identifying areas and individuals most at risk from criminality and harm. It also pointed out how technology can be used to optimise and direct police forces more efficiently to meet changing demand.
But with limited police resources, it is recognised that citizens must also be part of the solution. The experience of the Polish police force is illuminating in this context, as they are using technology to facilitate a more inclusive, collaborative and proactive approach.
One particular innovation is giving Polish policing the edge: the national map of security threats. This is an idea inspired by traditional New York–style police maps, on which events that happened in the city were marked with pins so that connections and hotspots for crime could be identified. The idea has evolved in Poland to the point where technology has enabled citizens to contribute and learn about the ‘pins.’ This has been achieved through a specially designed Internet platform that provides everybody in Poland with access both to the data already collected on incidents and crime hotspots, and to tools that enable them to input their own information and insights on possible threats.
The list of potential threats is diverse and potentially endless. Threats can range from alcohol or drug abuse to illegal dumping of garbage and illegal road races. As Inspector Mariusz Ciarka, spokesperson for the General Headquarters of the Polish Police, told us in an interview in Warsaw in May 2019: “There’s a lot of these items, but they are not items dictated by the Polish police. They are the result of debates with almost 2 million people, who pointed out themselves what should be on such a ‘national map of security threats,’ what annoys them the most and what affects their sense of security, so these are the examples that appear on the list.”
Through this approach, citizens — being the primary source of local information on safety and security issues — are actively encouraged to report the threats in their neighborhoods and effectively provide their input on where police forces are needed to tackle the threats arising. This aligns with the Polish police force’s mindset to see society as their “only client,” as Inspector Ciarka told us.
Poland’s national police map can be accessed here. The map shows each region/city in Poland, represented by circles that indicate their respective number of reported issues. By clicking on a region (or using the tools on the left-hand side), citizens can zoom in to see detailed information about each neighbourhood. The “legenda” label in the upper-right corner provides a list of all situations reported on the map and their current status. To add reports, citizens can click on the circle in the lower-left corner. They can also review the list of submissions already made by other individuals by clicking on the lower-right circle. Zooming into specific areas of the map will bring up additional information about the reported issues.
But the activities of the unit responsible for the map are not limited to gathering this data, valuable as it is. Thanks to the tool, aided by an app called ‘My police station’ (which locates the nearest police unit to any incident), the Polish police can direct patrols where they are most needed. In addition, the map fosters collaboration with other local agencies as the information about different problems in an area (such as broken streetlamps or traffic lights) is passed to the appropriate services. So, for instance, an apparently minor issue such as a broken fence can be highlighted if it is letting drug and alcohol abusers into an area where they engage in antisocial behavior. Through this tool, the police can alert a landlord or housing association to deal with this issue.
A changing world also requires agile operating models. So the police are adding new categories to the map to enhance their capability to tackle crime. According to Inspector Ciarka: “After a tragedy that occurred in Poland at the beginning of the year when there was a fire in an escape room and several girls died, we responded immediately, also receiving people’s feedback, and we have created an additional category [on the map]: places of entertainment that may be dangerous, such as discos and escape rooms.”
Other new map features allow users to add both a description and photos to the problems they submit. A dedicated email address lets citizens suggest further changes or additional functionalities for the tool.
Through this high degree of interactivity, Inspector Ciarka notes, “Citizens influence how to allocate police resources, because we not only depend on our security analyses, on where the police commander sends the patrol, but we also take into account signals marked on the map.”
The results are impressive. In addition to winning awards like the SAG (Special Achievement in GIS [geographic information system] award in 2017, the map has also played a role in increasing the public’s trust in police. According to two surveys conducted by Public Opinion Research Centre (CBOS) in March and April 2019, three-quarters (75 percent) of Polish citizens view the work of Poland’s police force positively, while 98 percent of Polish citizens feel safe in their place of residence.
New technology is undoubtedly changing how police forces capture information and use it more effectively to deploy their resources. Successful police organisations will be those that make the best use of the innovation offered by technology and data to change the way policing is done, disrupt criminality and improve productivity.
As the Polish experience demonstrates, involving citizens more deeply in exploiting the connective power of increasingly agile technology has the potential to make a step jump in delivering a safer, more secure society.